A Furnace Afloat

A Furnace Afloat: The Wreck Of The "Hornet" And The 4,300 Mile Voyage Of Its Survivors - Joe Jackson

On May 3, 1866, the American clipper ship Hornet caught fire. The 31 castaways were left with ten days' rations, 12 gallons of potable water and three small boats. 43 days later, having floated 4,300 miles some of them reached Hawaii. The burning itself occurred 1,000 miles due west of the Galapagos Islands. The book is about this trip, what the men went through both psychologically and physically. In addition it documents scientific and historical details of the time. It covers the construction of ships, the shipping industry, the political climate following the Civil War, Victorian mannerisms and what was known about the flora and fauna of the seas at this time. What happened to the survivors afterward? The book follows all of them until their deaths.

The author repeatedly increases suspense by first telling us of an imminent disaster and then filling out with historical details of other similar events in history. Only then do we return to what happens on the boats. Storm clouds approach and the text switches to a detailed analysis of storms and winds. The water runs out, and we are given an account of what happens to the body with dehydration. Food is gone and cannibalism threatens, the author explains what had happened in other comparable situations. This book is chock full of history and scientific information, it is not merely an exciting adventure story. It is that too, of course. I found the mix of fact and adventure very well done, but for those of you who just want an exciting adventure story, I would not recommend this book.

The book includes an index, a glossary of nautical terms, notes for every chapter and an extensive bibliography. There is a map of the voyage and photos of the ship, the captain, picture clips that appeared in the Harper's Weekly after the dramatic landing and diary drawings too.

Sam Clemens/Mark Twain was in Hawaii at the time, and he began to make his career with his recount of the Hornet's epic story. This too is interesting. What he chose to report is questionable, but read the book to judge for yourself!